Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The power of failure

A note from a former student concludes with the following:
PS- I should also thank you for a very valuable lesson you taught me in your class that spring. I had handed in some very sloppy work to you and received an F with a harsh note that I can still recite from memory. The wind was completely knocked out of my sails since I had never earned such an appraisal in high school. Had it not been for that wake-up call, I can't even imagine what my GPA would be now! I certainly never tried that trick again.
I of course have no memory of the comment that the student memorized. It amazes me, though, how many students have expressed gratitude later in their careers for my holding their work to a high standard. In at least two cases, a failing grade and an honest, challenging comment changed a life. In fact such students tend to be the ones I stay closest to.

It is very difficult to fail students: isn't it easier to give a D or C- or C+ or B-, let them slip by, and not have them show up at your office door, probably angry or upset, demanding more attention and some possibility of redemption? Easier, I guess, in that it is less work to give the higher and less laborious grade ... but then who is failing?

1 comment:

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I told my department chair I'd likely be giving several Fs in each survey class. He's fine with it, but we'll see how it goes over with the administration ...